Gifted Education

November 14th, 2011

The National Association of Gifted Children provides a variety of definitions of ‘gifted’. In the end, it seems that identifying gifted students may be as difficult and varied as identifying those with special needs. In their information, the NAGC cites the beginning of the gifted movement to the late 1800s, when students were moving faster than their counterparts and providing work ‘measurably different’ from the norm (2008, p. 1). That combination of self-motivation, academic achievement, and accelerated comprehension is a major tenant of the gifted ID today. However, over time, just like most other aspects of education, the term has expanded to include,

“The term gifted and talented student means children and youths who give evidence of higher performance capability in such areas as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who require services or activities not ordinarily provided by the schools in order to develop such capabilities fully.” (Javits Act, 1988)

These students are academics, performers, artists, or leaders and their needs are diverse and oftentimes difficult to provide in a classroom setting. In an increasing unmotivated student population, how does a teacher provide a challenging, enriching experience for these children?

Special Education is a hot topic in today’s education with the passing of NCLB, the IDEA act, IEPs, and inclusion settings. A great deal of attention is, rightfully, being paid to how to educate these students. However, the percentage of gifted students is much lower, particularly amongst ethnic minorities (National Education Association, 2007, p. 6-7). In real life setting this can be seen; my school employs eleven teachers for inclusion and self-contained classes; without including the speech therapist, OT and PT specialists, and the school psychologist. On the other hand, gifted is left to one teacher. However, these gifted students need planning and attention paid to their education as well. Gifted students remain students, and no matter their motivation, without proper guidance these students fail to reach their potential and can become behavior issues.

We discussed the benefits and failures of magnet schools for gifted students in class. However, what can be done with the gifted student in the regular classroom? The first step is identifying the gift. Just as with the multitude of labels for the special needs child, gifted has a large amount of labeling. Howard Gardner, Ph.D, broke down the gifted learner into these categories,

• Linguistic intelligence: sensitivity to the meaning and order of words.

• Logical-mathematical intelligence: ability in mathematics and other complex logical systems.

• Musical intelligence: the ability to understand and create music. Musicians, composers and dancers show a heightened musical intelligence.

• Spatial intelligence: the ability to “think in pictures,” to perceive the visual world accurately, and recreate (or alter) it in the mind or on paper. Spatial intelligence is highly developed in artists, architects, designers and sculptors.

• Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence: the ability to use one’s body in a skilled way, for self-expression or toward a goal. Mimes, dancers, basketball players, and actors are among those who display bodily-kinesthetic intelligence.

• Interpersonal intelligence: an ability to perceive and understand other individuals — their moods, desires, and motivations. Political and religious leaders, skilled parents and teachers, and therapists use this intelligence.

• Intrapersonal intelligence: an understanding of one’s own emotions.   Some novelists and or counselors use their own experience to guide others.

In addition this chart was created by Janice Szabos (1989) to identify gifted children from intelligent children

Comparing bright and gifted learners (chart)

Bright child Gifted child
Knows the answers Asks the questions
Interested Extremely curious
Pays attention Gets involved physically and mentally
Works hard Plays around; still gets good test scores
Answers questions Questions the answers
Enjoys same-age children Prefers adults or older peers
Good at memorization Good at guessing
Learns easily Bored — already knew the answers
Listens well Shows strong feelings and opinions
Self-satisfied Highly critical of self (perfectionistic)
Learns with ease Is mentally/physically involved
6-8 repetitions for mastery Has wild, silly ideas
Understands ideas Discusses in detail; elaborates
Enjoys peers Beyond the group
Grasps the meaning 1-2 repetitions for mastery
Completes assignments Constructs abstractions
Is receptive Initiates projects
Copies accurately Is intense
Enjoys school Creates a new design
Absorbs information Enjoys learning
Technician Manipulates information
Good memorizer Inventor
Enjoys straight-forward, Good guesser
Sequential presentation Thrives on complexity
Is alert Is keenly observant

Needless to say, gifted is a lot more than ‘smart kids’. In fact, giftedness goes far beyond high grades. In a letter to new gifted teachers, James R. Delisle, Ph.D, (2005), says, “If your gifted students are caring, giving, introspective, and committed to relevant learning, they are more successful than are the straight-A students who possess none of these attributes” (p. 23-25).

However, a talent in one area does not mean the child has a universal success at education. In fact, Alan Haskvitz, (2002), warns that gifted children often shy away from challenges because of “fear of failure” (p. 1). They are often described as stubborn or confrontational. The curriculum is boring to them because they know the material, either from prior knowledge or quicker comprehension, and feel burdened with extra work or frustrated at assignments they feel to be mundane.

The NAGC (1997) gives guidelines for working with gifted students. They include providing a more in-depth look at the course material with connections to real-life problems and examples, encouraging critical thinking and debate, a greater level of expectations for refined, skilled work, a larger amount of autonomy in their assignments, and, possibly most importantly, a supportive teacher who encourages risks.

They also list activities that detract from a gifted education. These include more problems at a quicker pace (which destroys motivation and bores the student), too much autonomy (being cut off from other students), being a ‘junior teacher’, or being asked to complete ‘filler material’ or perform classroom chores (which is a waste of instructional time).

It is complicated to find a balance with these students in a class of 20-30 students. However, providing different work, work that involves a greater amount of their senses and skills, seems to be the best answer to a gifted child. It takes time and a supportive teacher but may provide some significant opportunities to see success in the classroom.


Szabos, J. (1989) Challenge. Good Apple, Inc., 34

Tonlinson, C. (1997). The do’s and don’ts of instruction: what it means to teach gifted learners well. Instructional Leader.

Haskvitz, A. (2002). Teaching gifted students. Horace Mann Educators Corporation

National Association for Gifted Children. (2008). What is giftedness? Retrieved from:

National Education Association. (2007). Truth in labeling: disproportionality in special education. Retrieved from:

Delisle, J. (2005). Letter to new gifted teacher. Gifted Child Today, 28(1), 22–23.

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